SubscribeAvailable Now
Photo by Aaron Colussi, prop styling by Natalie Warady, and food styling by Victoria Escalle

How to Host the Best Hanukkah Feast Ever

Ash’Kara chef Daniel Asher shares his Middle Eastern-inspired recipes for latkes, lamb, doughnuts, and more.

|

For Daniel Asher, Hanukkah is synonymous with his mother’s cooking. “My mom is amazing in the kitchen,” says Asher, the chef at year-old Middle Eastern–inspired restaurant Ash’Kara in LoHi. “And Hanukkah was always a time when she would embrace her love of feeding us with reckless abandon.” But reminiscing about childhood holidays is bittersweet for Asher these days: His brilliant, hard-working father, Maximo, died in August. “The only times when my father would pause and be present were when we were at the table,” Asher says. “Hanukkah has always symbolized a time when we were together and connected.” So, despite the increased levels of activity that restaurants (and their chefs) experience at this time of year, Asher makes sure to commune with his family—his wife, Steph; their children, Fletcher, Judah, Morgan, and Tulsi—and friends around the table during the Jewish Festival of Lights (December 22 to 30). Below, he shares a menu of lamb, latkes, carrots, jam-filled doughnuts, and more, based on the meals that his mother, Sheila, prepared when he was growing up—enhanced with the contemporary Middle Eastern flavors Asher is known for. “Food is my mother’s love language,” Asher says, “and it became mine, too.”

Click here for Daniel Asher’s first-person story on what Hanukkah means to him now, in the wake of his father’s passing. 


Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

Root Vegetable Latkes

“For me, the spirit of Judaism—and the basic principle of being a thoughtful human—is about taking care of one another,” Asher says. Feeding the ones he loves is part of that ethos. No Hanukkah table is complete without latkes, enjoyed here (above, from left) by Levi and Mason Dinar, sons of Asher’s restaurant partner Josh Dinar, and Asher’s son Judah. Asher’s mother always made latkes traditionally, with potatoes and onions, but Asher’s root-vegetable pancakes are what he imagines she’d have made if she let loose. If there are latke leftovers, use them as the base for a Benedict the next morning, reheating the pancakes in a low oven.

Makes about 20 3-inch-wide latkes

Root vegetable latkes. Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

4 medium waxy red potatoes
1 medium sweet onion, halved through the root and peeled
1 small beet, peeled
½ small zucchini, trimmed and peeled
½ small fennel bulb, cored
½ small sweet potato, peeled
2 Tbs. sea salt, plus more to taste
Grapeseed or rice bran oil, for frying
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp. herbes de Provence
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
Apple butter
Crème fraîche

  1. Set a large colander over a large bowl. Use the large holes of a box grater to grate the potatoes, onion, beet, zucchini, fennel, and sweet potato into the colander. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of salt over the grated vegetables; mix with your hands until the salt dissolves. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes, squeezing the vegetables once or twice to remove liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, add enough oil to a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet, preferably cast iron, to measure ¼ inch deep. Heat over medium-high until a vegetable strand or two dropped into the oil sizzles vigorously, about 350°. Heat the oven to 150° and put a paper-towel-lined rimmed baking sheet on the center rack.
  3. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large piece of cheesecloth or a thin kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can; discard the liquid.
  4. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and, using your hands, add the eggs and herbes de Provence; mix to combine. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture and gently mix by hand until combined.
  5. Slowly lower heaping tablespoonsful of the latke mixture into the oil, immediately pressing down on the center of each with the back of the measuring spoon to form a relatively flat, 3-inch-wide pancake; the edges will be lacier and thinner than the centers. Fry in batches, flipping once, until each latke is deep golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Transfer the latkes to the sheet in the oven, sprinkling each with a tiny pinch of salt. Repeat.
  6. Serve the latkes with the apple butter and crème fraîche.
Moroccan noodle kugel. Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

Moroccan Noodle Kugel

Back to Top

Advertisement

Kugel, an Ashkenazi noodle dish (sometimes sweet, sometimes not), is a mainstay on Hanukkah menus; Sheila, Asher’s mother, typically made hers sweet. Asher’s version is a mix of styles, with sugar, cottage cheese, ricotta, milk, and raisins adding creamy sweetness and spices, including the Moroccan blend ras al hanout, lending a savory note.

Serves 8

6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
Sea salt
12 oz. wide egg noodles
2¼ cups whole milk, at room temperature
1½ cups full-fat cottage cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup whole-milk ricotta, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar
3 Tbs. ras el hanout spice blend
1 Tbs. Madras curry powder
1 cup raisins

  1. Heat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook until al dente, 1 minute short of the package directions. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the butter, milk, cottage cheese, ricotta, eggs, sugar, ras el hanout, curry powder, and a pinch of salt; it will look like, in Asher’s words, a “super-runny mess.” Fold in the noodles and raisins until coated. Spoon the noodle mixture into the baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until golden brown around the edges, about 30 minutes more. Cool completely before serving.
Roasted carrots with saffron yogurt. Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

Roasted Carrots with Saffron Yogurt

Back to Top

“My mom would begin cooking for Hanukkah a week ahead of time,” Asher says, “and I’d help her. It was always a feast, combining my dad’s Eastern European favorites, traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dishes, and a bit of a Sephardic influence, as well.” Roasted carrots were a staple at their celebrations, but here, the chef channels a popular Ash’Kara menu item by adding ginger, coriander, pink peppercorns, and a saffron yogurt sauce.

Advertisement

Serves 6 to 8

For the yogurt sauce:
1 medium lemon
6 saffron threads
1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
Sea salt
For the carrots:
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. crushed coriander seeds
1 Tbs. sea salt
1 tsp. crushed pink peppercorns
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
8 large carrots, trimmed, peeled, and cut into large chunks
To serve:
2 Tbs. wildflower honey
2 Tbs. pea shoots (optional)

  1. Make the yogurt sauce: Zest the lemon into a medium bowl, then halve the lemon and squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice into the bowl. Add the saffron, stir, and let sit for 15 minutes to bloom. Add the yogurt, cilantro, and parsley; season to taste with salt. Cover and refrigerate for up to one day.
  2. Cook the carrots: Heat the oven to 400°. Combine the oil, coriander, salt, peppercorns, and ginger in a large bowl. Add the carrots and toss to combine. Transfer the carrots to a large rimmed baking sheet, arrange in a single layer, and roast, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool until warm or room temperature.
  3. Serve: Stir the yogurt sauce to loosen, then spread in a thick layer on a large serving platter. Arrange the carrots over the yogurt, drizzle with honey, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and garnish with the pea shoots, if using.
A Hanukkah feast featuring brisket-style braised lamb. Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

Brisket-Style Braised Lamb

Back to Top

Asher’s mother braised a beef brisket for every Hanukkah meal he can recall, but for this menu, he put a Colorado spin on the dish by marinating a local leg of lamb and then braising it in pomegranate juice, red wine, and tamari. Root vegetables, mushrooms, and dried fruits cook with the lamb, giving the resulting jus a rich, complex flavor. You can repurpose leftover jus as the base for stew or nontraditional French onion soup.

Serves 8 to 10

Advertisement

6 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup stone-ground mustard
10 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
2 Tbs. dried mint
2 Tbs. light brown sugar
2 Tbs. ground cumin
2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
2 tsp. za’atar
1 large sprig rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
Sea salt
6 lbs. boneless leg of lamb, tied
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and diced
12 baby turnips, trimmed and halved
6 assorted mushrooms, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
½ small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup pomegranate juice
½ cup tamari
18 dried mission figs
14 dried apricots
12 pitted prunes
½ cup dried currants
2 dried bay leaves

  1. In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the oil with the mustard, garlic, fennel, mint, sugar, cumin, pepper, za’atar, rosemary, and 2 tablespoons of salt; coat the lamb on all sides. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
  2. Heat the oven to 325°. Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large roasting pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the turnips, mushrooms, parsnip, squash, and a big pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes more. Remove the vegetables from the pan using a slotted spoon; set aside.
  3. Using paper towels, remove as much of the marinade from the lamb as you can. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the roasting pan over medium, then sear the lamb until browned on all sides (including the ends), about 10 minutes total.
  4. Raise the heat to medium-high. Return the vegetables to the pan, then add the remaining ingredients, stirring to distribute the vegetables and fruits evenly around the lamb. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover tightly with aluminum foil and cook for 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue to cook until a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the lamb registers 130° (for medium), about 30 minutes more.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the lamb to a carving board to rest, at least 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables and fruits to a platter; keep warm. Tilt the roasting pan gently so the braising liquid pools in a corner; the fat should rise to the surface. Dip a spoon into the liquid just enough to allow the fat, but not the jus, to spill into the spoon; discard the fat. (Alternatively, degrease the jus using a fat separator.) Transfer the jus to a gravy boat. Cut the lamb into ¼-inch-thick slices and arrange with the vegetables on the platter. Drizzle with some of the jus and serve.
Fruit salad with tahini and orange blossom water. Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

Fruit Salad with Tahini & Orange Blossom Water

Back to Top

This colorful dessert salad, drizzled with creamy tahini and flavored with fragrant orange blossom water, is an homage to Asher’s father, Maximo, who snacked on fresh fruit every night after dinner while drinking a cup of chamomile tea. Asher recommends buying orange blossom water at Arash International Market in Denver or Mediterranean Market & Deli in Boulder. Leftover fruit salad is delicious for up to two days.

Serves 8 to 10; yields about 14 cups

4 small oranges (navel, blood, or a combination)
1 small pineapple
1 medium, ripe melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, Harper, or muskmelon)
1 lb. red grapes
2 cups blackberries
1 Tbs. orange blossom water
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, sliced into thin ribbons
¼ cup tahini

Advertisement
  1. Slice one of the oranges into thin rounds; set the rounds aside for garnish. Zest the remaining three oranges (a rasp-style grater works best) into a large bowl.
  2. Slice off the blossom and stem ends of the zested oranges. Stand the fruit on one of its cut ends and slice off the outer skin in strips, following the natural curve of the fruit from top to bottom. Try to remove all of the bitter white pith without sacrificing too much of the flesh. Working over the bowl to catch the juice and holding the orange in your palm, carefully slice between the membranes to cut the orange segments free, letting each one fall into the bowl as you go.
  3. Peel and core the pineapple, cut the fruit into 1-inch chunks, and add them to the bowl with the oranges. Seed and peel the melon, cut it into 1-inch chunks, and add them to the bowl. Add the grapes, blackberries, and orange blossom water; gently toss to combine. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  4. Transfer the fruit to a serving bowl or rimmed platter, drizzle with the tahini, sprinkle with the mint, and garnish with the orange rounds before serving.
Chef Daniel Asher and his son, Judah, make sufganiyot. Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

Sufganiyot (Israeli Jelly Doughnuts)

Back to Top

Jam-filled fried doughnuts, or “sufganiyot,” are a Festival of Lights classic that represent the miracle of the oil. When Asher was young, he helped his mother fry doughnuts; today, six-year-old Judah is in the kitchen with his father. “Cooking with my mom for Hanukkah was all about the joy of the family being together,” Asher says. “Now, it’s a time for me to be present and to cook for—and with—my family. For me, cooking is the greatest expression of care for others.” Take note that the doughnut dough needs to be prepared a day ahead of frying. Feel free to use any jam or jelly flavor you like, but Asher recommends Denver-based RedCamper’s whiskey-peach or blueberry-gin.

Makes 8 to 10 doughnuts

½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 large egg, plus 1 yolk
3 Tbs. sour cream
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. vanilla bean paste or ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
Zest from ½ medium blood orange plus 3 Tbs. juice
12 oz. (2 ²⁄³ cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
Grapeseed or rice bran oil
1 to 1½ cups jam or jelly
Powdered sugar

Jam-filled sufganiyot. Photo by Aaron Colussi, prop styling by Natalie Warady, and food styling by Victoria Escalle
  1. Mix the milk, 2 teaspoons of the sugar, and the yeast in a small bowl; set aside somewhere warm.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining sugar with the egg and yolk on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the sour cream, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, orange zest and juice, and the yeast mixture; mix well on low speed. With the mixer running, gradually add the flour. As soon as a dough forms, remove the paddle and attach a dough hook. Mix on medium-low speed until the dough is soft, smooth, and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Brush a thin layer of oil onto the paper. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a ½-inch-thick round. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut out doughnuts, arranging them on the paper-lined sheet with at least an inch of space between them. Reroll the dough once and cut out more doughnuts. Let the doughnuts rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, add 2 inches of oil to a deep pot. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and heat the oil over medium until it reaches 350°. Line a large platter or baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels. Working in batches, fry a few doughnuts at a time, taking care not to crowd the pot. Fry until golden brown on one side, about 1 minute, then flip and continue frying until golden brown on the second side, about 1 minute more. Drain the doughnuts on the paper towels. Repeat. Let the doughnuts cool completely.
  5. To fill the doughnuts, spoon the jam into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain piping tip. Insert the tip of a chopstick or reusable straw into one side of each doughnut, wiggling it to create a pocket for the jam but not making a hole on the opposite side. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the opening and gently squeeze 1 to 2 tablespoons of the jam into the center. Dust the filled doughnuts with powdered sugar before serving.
Miracle Punch. Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

Miracle Punch

Back to Top

Advertisement

A savvy host like Asher knows that a make-ahead punch recipe (courtesy of Ash’Kara) and drink-mixing assistance free him up to complete last-minute kitchen tasks such as frying latkes and carving lamb. This citrus-and-spice-scented Miracle Punch is named for the Jewish story in which a small quantity of oil, used to light a menorah in Jerusalem’s holy temple, lasted for eight days instead of one. The fragrant base for this festive punch is “oleo saccharum,” a syrup of citrus peels and sugar that bartenders use to unlock the essential oils in the fruit. You can make the oleo saccharum up to 1 week ahead, but the punch base is best made within a day of serving.

Serves 12

For the oleo saccharum:
2 medium lemons
2 large oranges
1 cup granulated sugar
For the punch base:
2 black tea bags
1 cup (8 oz.) boiling water
3 oz. Greek Mastiha liqueur
To serve:
Pebble ice
1 ½ cups (12 oz.) brandy
Champagne or sparkling wine
12 star anise pods

  1. Make the oleo saccharum: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons and oranges in wide strips, leaving the bitter white pith behind; reserve the fruit and transfer the zest to a medium bowl. Using a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon, muddle the sugar with the zest until it looks like fluffy, damp sand. Cover and let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has mostly dissolved into a syrup, at least three hours and up to overnight. (It’s OK if all of the sugar isn’t dissolved, as it will when you add the hot tea in the next step.)
  2. Make the punch base: Combine the tea bags with the boiling water in a small bowl or measuring cup; steep for 7 to 10 minutes. Combine the tea with the oleo saccharum mixture, stirring to fully dissolve the sugar and combine. Remove and discard the tea bags, then let the mixture cool completely.
  3. Strain the oleo-tea mixture into another medium bowl or measuring cup, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
  4. Juice the reserved lemons and oranges into a large bowl; you need 1 cup (8 oz.) of orange juice and 1/3 cup (2½ oz.) of lemon juice. Add the juices to the oleo-tea mixture, along with the Mastiha liqueur.
  5. To serve: Build each cocktail in a goblet or wine glass filled with pebble ice. Add 2 oz. of the punch base, 1 oz. brandy, and a splash of Champagne. Stir, garnish with a star anise pod, and serve immediately.
  6. (Alternatively, you can serve as a bowl of punch: Add the punch base and 2 cups (16 oz.) of brandy to a large punch bowl filled with pebble ice. Top with 1 cup (8 oz.) of sparkling wine. Garnish with thin slices of lemon and the star anise pods. Let the punch sit for at least five minutes before serving so the ice can chill and dilute the punch mixture a bit.)
Friend Kate Erin Chambers and Ben Higgins, an Ash’Kara co-owner (and onetime star of ABC’s The Bachelor), raise their glasses at the holiday table alongside chef Daniel Asher and friends. Photo by Aaron Colussi; prop styling by Natalie Warady; food styling by Victoria Escalle

Shopping List

Back to Top

(Note: Daniel Asher recommends buying organic produce, dairy, and proteins whenever possible.)

Advertisement

Fresh Produce
2 large, 1 medium, and 4 small oranges (navel, blood, or a combination)
3 medium lemons
1 small pineapple
1 medium, ripe melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, Harper, or muskmelon)
1 lb. red grapes
2 cups blackberries
8 large carrots, preferably multicolored
4 medium waxy red potatoes
12 baby turnips
6 mushrooms (button, cremini, shiitake, or a combination)
1 large parsnip
2 medium sweet onions
1 small zucchini
1 small butternut squash
1 small fennel bulb
1 small sweet potato
1 small beet
10 medium cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 small bunch fresh mint
1-inch piece fresh ginger
2 Tbs. pea shoots (optional)

Meat & Dairy
6 lbs. boneless leg of lamb, tied
1 qt. whole milk
1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt (8 oz.)
3 Tbs. sour cream
1 ½ cups full-fat cottage cheese (12 oz.)
¾ cup whole-milk ricotta (6 oz.)
Crème fraîche
2 sticks unsalted butter

Other Groceries
4 black tea bags
¼ cup tahini
1 Tbs. orange blossom water
1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup pomegranate juice
½ cup tamari
18 dried mission figs
14 dried apricots
12 pitted whole prunes
½ cup dried currants
2 dried bay leaves
½ cup stone-ground mustard
2 Tbs. wildflower honey
12 oz. wide egg noodles
2 Tbs. light brown sugar
6 saffron threads
2 Tbs. ground cumin
2 tsp. za’atar (available at Marczyk Fine Foods and Middle Eastern markets)
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
2 Tbs. dried mint (available at Marczyk Fine Foods and Middle Eastern markets)
1 Tbs. coriander seeds
1 tsp. pink peppercorns
2 tsp. herbes de Provence
3 Tbs. ras el hanout spice blend (available at Marczyk Fine Foods and Middle Eastern markets)
1 Tbs. Madras curry powder
10 whole star anise
1 cup raisins (5 oz.)
1 jar apple butter (preferably Ela Family Farms brand, available at Marczyk Fine Foods or elafamilyfarms.com)
1 package active dry yeast
8 large eggs, preferably cage-free
1 to 1½ cups jam or jelly (preferably RedCamper whiskey-peach or blueberry-gin, available at Marczyk Fine Foods or redcamper.com)
Vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
5 oz. Greek mastiha liqueur
10 oz. brandy
1 bottle Champagne
Olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
All-purpose flour
Granulated sugar
Powdered sugar
Ground cinnamon
Grapeseed or rice bran oil
Sea salt (preferably Jacobsen kosher sea salt, available at Whole Foods Market and Marczyk Fine Foods)
Black peppercorns

Specialty Equipment/Tools
Rolling pin
Cheesecloth or thin kitchen towel
9-by-13-inch baking dish
3-inch ring mold or cookie cutter
Candy thermometer
Pastry bag
Large, round piping tip

Menu Timeline

Back to Top

Advertisement

Up to 1 week ahead:

1 day ahead:

5 hours ahead:

4 hours ahead:

3 hours ahead:

Advertisement

2 hours ahead:

1 hour ahead:

As guests arrive:

Just before dinner:

30 minutes before dessert:

Advertisement

Just before dessert:

Winter in Colorado

Newsletters

Keep me up to date on the latest trends and happenings around Denver. 5280 has a newsletter for everyone.

Sign Up